These divrei Torah were adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissocher Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Tapes on the weekly portion: Tape # 168, The Laws and Customs of the Hesped. Good Shabbos!
What About A Back-Up Plan?
The pasuk tells us that Avraham sent his trusted servant Eliezer to Avraham’s own ancestral home to find a wife for Yitzchak. Avraham instructed Eliezer that “…Under no circumstances are you allowed to take a wife for Yitzchak from the daughters of Canaan…” [Bereshis 24:3].
However, Eliezer raised a logical question: What should he do if the girl does not want to follow him back to Canaan? Eliezer inquired whether in that case, he should take Yitzchak to Paddan Aram. Avraham’s reply was “No. Even if she does not want to come here, Yitzchak cannot go there.”
The question arises; if Yitzchak could not go to Padan Aram and could not marry a girl from Canaan, then what option would Yitzchak have if the girl refused to follow Eliezer to Canaan? How would Yitzchak get married?
We can understand Avraham’s preference that the girl should come to Yitzchak. But what about a back up plan? What about planning for a “worst case scenario” – in case she refused to come? What would have been with the Jewish people? What would have happened if Yitzchak did not have a wife and children?
Avraham’s response teaches us an attitude and outlook (hashkafa) towards life. If something cannot be done the way that it is supposed to be done, then it should not be done at all. We have an obligation to live our lives based on Torah.
“What is going to be? I do not know what is going to be. I have to do what I know is right; the rest is G-d’s responsibility.”
It is this outlook which we see with Avraham, and which we have seen throughout the ages from the Gedolei Yisroel, the Sages of Israel. We do not compromise. We do not bend the rules. If something can not be done the way it should be done, then we just do not do it! The question “but what will happen now?” — is not our problem.
The Netziv, the Rosh Yeshiva of the Volozhiner Yeshiva — the grandfather of all Yeshivas, provided a classic example of this concept.
At approximately the turn of the century, the Russian government wanted to impose a rule that Russian subjects would have to be taught in the Volozhiner Yeshiva. The alternative was that the Yeshiva would be shut down.[I am not trying to draw any parallels to today. We are not talking about the pros or cons of secular education; I am merely trying to bring out a point. We cannot compare Russia circa 1900 to the United States circa 2000.]
The Netziv was faced with the question: “Do I permit Russian subjects to be taught in the Volozhiner Yeshiva, or do I close the Yeshiva?” In order to understand the significance of that decision, we must remember that there were no other Yeshivos. Closing the Volozhiner Yeshiva did not mean that the students would switch to others. Volozhin, with its 400 students, was the only Yeshiva in Russia.
The Netziv’s dilemma was: should he allow Russian subjects to be taught for a couple of hours a day, or should he close the Yeshiva. What did the Netziv do? The Netziv closed the Yeshiva! But — “what’s going to be?” The Netziv responded, “that is G-d’s issue. It is His Torah. He knows He wants it learned. It is His problem.” The Netziv had to do what was right, despite the ramifications.
So the Netziv closed the Yeshiva. At the time when the Netziv made his decision, he did not know what the result would be. In actuality, as a result of closing Volozhin, many other Yeshivos were started across Russia, Poland and beyond. Closing the Yeshiva in Volozhin caused Torah to be spread. The entire Yeshiva movement today can be traced back to that one Yeshiva in Volozhin! But the Netziv did not know what the outcome would be. He did not know “what’s going to be,” and he did not care. He only knew what was right. This was the approach of Avraham Avinu, and this was the approach of Gedolei Yisroel.
I would like to tell over an incident which I recently heard from Rav Pam, shlit”a (and again I am not trying to bring any parallels to today). Reb Chaim Soloveichik had a son named Rav Velvel Soloveichik, who later became the famous Brisker Rav in Eretz Yisroel.
A relative of Reb Chaim once came to him and suggested that Rav Velvel learn the Russian language. The relative said, “Today, to be a Rabbi, one has to know how to speak Russian. It is time for Rav Velvel to learn Russian.” To which Reb Chaim responded “So, he won’t be a Rabbi.”
The man persisted, “Well, to be a businessman, it is certainly necessary to know Russian.” Reb Chaim responded, “So, he won’t be a businessman.”
So the man said, “Even to be a Rosh Yeshiva today, one must know Russian — to speak to the students and to the parents.” Reb Chaim responded, “So, he won’t be a Rosh Yeshiva.”
Finally the man inquired “If he won’t be a Rav and he won’t be a businessman and he won’t be a Rosh Yeshiva, what will be with him?” Reb Chaim answered, “He will be a poor man who knows Shas by heart!”
In other words, “What is going to be? I don’t know what is going to be. But I know that I do not want my son Velvel learning Russian.”
Again, no parallels to today. But the lesson to be learned is that one must do what he feels is right, is in accordance with the Torah, and “let the chips fall where they may”. The consequences are G-d’s business.
When It Comes To Finding a Mate — Providence Will Handle It
The Medrash [Bereishis Rabbah 60] says that there were four people in history who made improper requests. Three of these people were fortunate, in that even though their request was articulated improperly, G-d answered them kindly. The fourth person received a terrible response. These four people were Eliezer, Kalev, Shaul, and Yiftach.
Eliezer said “And it will be the girl that says ‘Not only will I give you to drink, but I will give your camels to drink’ will be the girl who will marry my master’s son.” [Bereshis 24:14] The Medrash says that this was not an appropriate way to ask. What if a maidservant had come out and met all of Eliezer’s conditions? Fortunately, G-d sent Rivkah.
Kalev promised to give his daughter in marriage to the person who would capture the city of Kiryat Sefer [Yehoshua 15:16]. Kalev did not know what kind of person would conquer the city. What if a slave would have conquered the city? Fortunately, Osniel ben Kenaz conquered the city.
Shaul promised his daughter to the person who would kill Goliath [Shmuel I 17:25]. Again this was a rash promise, but again G-d was kind and Dovid killed Goliath.
However, there was one man whose improper request resulted in tragedy. Yiftach was praying for success in battle against Ammon. Yiftach said to G-d, “If You deliver Ammon into my hands, the first thing that comes out of my house to greet me, I will offer as a sacrifice…” [Shoftim 11:31] Unfortunately, his daughter was the first to greet him. [According to the commentaries, Yiftach either sacrificed his daughter or sent her away for the rest of her life. Either way, this was a punishment for Yiftach’s improper request.]
The question can be asked: Eliezer, Kalev, and Shaul also asked improperly. Why were they fortunate and why was Yiftach struck with tragedy?
The Beis Av offers a beautiful insight. The Beis Av says that the common denominator of Eliezer, Kalev, and Shaul was that their requests all involved Shidduchim, marriages. When it comes to finding a proper mate, that is one area regarding which a person can legitimately say “G-d — take care of me!” When it comes to finding a person’s life mate, the rule is that this comes from the Hand of G-d [Yalkut Shimoni 117]. Regarding Shidduchim one is allowed to play with Providence and rely on G-d’s intervention.
Yiftach’s pledge had nothing to do with a shidduch. When one utters an irresponsible pledge like that, anything can happen.
I once heard the following from Rav Simcha Zissel Brody, who heard it from the Chazzon Ish. The Chazzon Ish commented, there are two things that are “as difficult as splitting of the Red Sea” — a person’s livelihood and finding a mate. We all know that a person’s livelihood is difficult because Adam received a curse that it should be difficult to bring forth bread from the earth. But, the Chazzon Ish asked, why should finding a mate be so hard?
The Chazzon Ish explained that unfortunately, we live in a time in which we usually do not see the Hand of G-d. However, there is one area where everyone admits that we often can still see it. G-d takes a special interest, and plays a special role in Shidduchim.
We all have stories that we feel were ‘basherte’. I will just say over my favorite shidduch story. This is a story of a young man who went out looking for a shidduch for a very long time with no success. He went out with his seventy ninth girl. It was a terrible date. He came back upset and broken. He decided to go buy something to eat. He walked into a Kosher hamburger place in Borough Park, sat down at a table and ordered a burger. A woman came up to him and asked, “Are you married?” He responded “No”. She said, “I have a shidduch for you.” This was a woman completely out of the blue, who had never met him before! Yet he and the girl suggested by that woman are now living happily ever after.
This is an example where we see Hashgocha (Divine Providence) — the Hand of G-d. Here a person can take the liberty and say “Master of the World, take care of me.”
Gedolei Yisroel — Great Men of Israel
Shidduchim — marriage proposals
basherte — meant to be
Sources and Personalities
Netziv— Rav Naftali Tzvi Yehudah Berlin (1817-1893); Volozhin.
Rav Chaim Soloveichik — (1853-1918); Brisk, Lithuania.
Rav Velvel Soloveichik — (1886-1959); Brisk; Jerusalem.
Rav Simcha Zissel Brody — Rosh Yeshiva, Yeshivas Chevron (Jerusalem)..
Chazzon Ish — Rav Avraham Yeshaya Karelitz (1878-1953); Bnei Brak.
Technical Assistance by Dovid Hoffman; Yerushalayim.
This week’s write-up is adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissochar Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Torah Tapes on the weekly Torah portion (#168). The corresponding halachic portion for this tape is: The Laws and Customs of the Hesped. The other halachic portions for Parshas Chayei Sarah from the Commuter Chavrusah Series are:
- Tape # 030 – The Shadchan in Halacha
- Tape # 072 – Superstition in Halacha
- Tape # 121 – The Jewish Cemetery
- Tape # 214 – Pilegesh: An Alternative to Marriage?
- Tape # 258 – Intrusion on Another’s Shidduch
- Tape # 304 – The “Mazik” of a Child: Is he responsible?
- Tape # 348 – Determining the Salary of the Shadchan
- Tape # 392 – Purchasing a Burial Plot
- Tape # 436 – Daughters, Shidduchim & Parental Wishes
Tapes or a complete catalogue can be ordered from:
Yad Yechiel Institute
PO Box 511
Owings Mills, MD 21117-0511
Call (410) 358-0416 for further information.
Also Available: Mesorah / Artscroll has published a collection of Rabbi Frand’s essays. The book is entitled:
and is available through your local Hebrew book store or from Project Genesis, 1-410-654-1799.